When our culture and government are so gripped at the neck by white nationalism, seeking nothing else than to dominate and denigrate women, migrants, flood victims, and too many others deemed expendable, today’s Gospel reminds us of our mission to live in intimate love of neighbor and Christ.
Sadly, today’s Gospel has been twisted to ends far removed from Jesus. In the early 20th century this reading was used to demand acquiescence to totalitarian governments. Even today, too often I wonder if our Church is more concerned with paying Caesar’s due than living out Gospel love. Still, others use this Gospel to promote anarchy that would wreak havoc on the most vulnerable among us.
Yet both acquiescence to Caesar and anarchy miss the deeper implications of witness to Jesus Christ. These approaches miss Jesus’s call to practice intimate care and concern for people who are in any way excluded, despised, or denigrated.
Isaiah reminds us that God calls each of us intimately by name. Paul’s message to the Thessalonians celebrates how the intimate embrace of Jesus gathers our community in the “work of faith and the labor of love” whereby we are transformed within ourselves and bound together in the infinite love and deep conviction of the Spirit.
The Pharisees knew the answer to their own question when they attempt to entrap Jesus. When they convey respect for Jesus’ practice of truth and justice and state “you do not regard a person’s status” (MT 22:16) they acknowledge the biblical basis for what we call God’s preferential option to love those without status. No wonder Jesus is a little perturbed by the question. We know better—we know what to render to God. We know a God who calls us intimately by name and whose love overflows in us to care for everyone suffering in our midst.
- In the midst of today’s social conflict how do we witness to God’s intimate love for people who are despised, excluded or in any way denigrated by society?
- Are we willing to risk our lives for people who society denigrates including African Americans, migrants, Muslims, women, and gay and lesbian brothers and sisters?
Alex Mikulich is an anti-racist Catholic social ethicist and activist.